NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered organic compounds on Mars but has yet to confirm that the traces of carbon originated on the red planet, researchers said Monday.
The discovery was made by Curiosity when it used its arm and scoop to collect five soil samples at a site called Rocknest in the Gale Crater on its way to its main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp.
The discovery of carbon traces is potentially highly significant, because carbon-containing chemicals can be ingredients for life. Researchers said it was too early to tell whether the chemicals originated on Mars or came from unknown sources in space, and the possibility of contamination from the man-made rover or previous Mars expeditions must still be ruled out.
“The results are an unprecedented look at the chemical diversity of the area,” said Mars Science Laboratory scientist Michael Meyer, who stressed that the data “forms a solid baseline for continued exploration.”
“We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater,” principal investigator Paul Mahaffy said. “We have to be very careful that both the carbon and the chlorine are coming from Mars.”